By Prof. Oguejiofo T. Ujam
Not many people remember how the power rotation arrangement, also called zoning; which stabilized partisan politics and elections came about in Enugu State. That instance of memory lapse could explain the recent attempts by some overzealous politicians to redefine the zoning arrangement in the state.
Watchers of Enugu State politics say signs that the journey to the 2023 governorship could be strewn with a lot of bumps and bends emerged when former Deputy Senate President (DSP) Ike Ekweremadu tried to dictate for Enugu East zone, the person to represent them at the Senate in 2019.
It is settled that by 2023, the incumbent, His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi from Enugu North or Nsukka cultural zone, would round off his second and final term in office as governor. Going by the zoning and power rotation arrangement, which has been observed religiously in the state since 1999, 2023 would be another opportunity for Enugu East or Nkanu cultural zone to produce the next governor.
At the build-up to the 2019 general elections, Ekweremadu threw his political weight behind Senator Gilbert Nnaji from Nike to return to the Red chamber for a third term. Perceptive stakeholders in the zone saw that move not only as an attempt to disrupt the flow of senatorial representation, but also as a clever trick to terminate the rotation scheme.
Governor Ugwuanyi’s allies and stakeholders in Enugu East have continued to appreciate the governor for insisting on fairness and equity by ensuring that former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani got a second berth in the Senate after being rigged out in 2015.
It should be noted that since 1999, Enugu State has continued to vote for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That partly explains the ease with which Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, who contested on the platform of People for Democratic Change (PDC) party was denied the fruit of his electoral triumph that year.
The former governor has continued to express gratitude to Governor Ugwuanyi for coming to his aid during the nomination process in PDP, when the likes of Ekweremadu and other members of Ebeano political dynasty tried to keep their master away from the Senate.
It is well known that in 1999, Chimaroke helped to resuscitate Ekwereamdu politically after he was defeated in the local government council poll in Aninri, by bringing him from All Peoples Party (APP) to PDP and appointing him the Chief of Staff, Government House.
In 2002, Chimaroke also deployed Ekweremadu to serve as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) after the former occupant, Onyemauche Nnamani, resigned to pursue his private business.
Many people in Enugu State still remember that as SSG, Ekweremadu pleaded with Governor Nnamani to support him to represent Enugu West in the Senate. Chimaroke granted Ekweremadu’s requests for two main reasons. One, it was the turn of the Awgu/Aninri axis to go to Senate, because the Udi/Ezeagu part had just finished representing the zone in the Senate through Senator Ben Collins Ndu and secondly, at that time Chimaroke had fallen out with his former Commissioner for Works, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah, who hails from Udi axis of Enugu West.
After those huge political favours to Ekweremadu some people wondered why he should support Senator Gil Nnaji for a third term in the Senate instead of Senator Chimaroke Nnamani. The reason is not far-fetched. It was simply part of the strategic positioning for the 2023 governorship, which has been zoned to Enugu East Senatorial District.
Recent developments, particularly media reports intended to create division and friction in Enugu East, show that the plan was to scuttle the chances of Enugu East to choose the next governor of Enugu State without rancour and bitterness.
Opinions are divided on whether Ekweremadu wants to contest the governorship poll in 2023 that is after 20 years’ stay in the Senate or to emerge as political godfather in the state. How the former DSP wants to chart his political future should not be anybody’s business.
However, the strenuous efforts being put by some politicians to redefine the zoning arrangement in Enugu State have become worrisome and deserves that well-meaning stakeholders speak out to nip the dangerous narrative in the bud.
Origin and sanctity of zoning in Enugu State:
The historical background of zoning in Enugu State bears recapitulation. During the transition to civil rule programme of former military president, retired General Ibrahim Babangida, the old Enugu State that included part of present Ebonyi State, the governorship election of 1991 was a war.
In a demonstration of its conservative politics, most politicians in the state gravitated towards the then National Republican Congress (NRC). As plans to select the NRC governorship candidate gathered momentum, supporters of the two major aspirants, Reverend Hyde Onuaguluchi and Dr. Joe Nwodo, threw everything into the campaigns.
The smoke of imminent bloodbath was discernible. Political thugs mobilized themselves menacingly in apparent demonstration of their capacity for mischief. Both parties made their position clear: Victory or death!
With security reports pointing towards an imminent ‘Armageddon’, representations were made to President Babangida to ban the contenders in order not to plunge the state into an inter-communal war between the Nsukka cultural zone and Agbaja in the present Enugu West Senatorial zone.
In a nationwide radio broadcast, President Babangida announced the disqualification of certain caliber of politicians, including the two top gladiators in Enugu State, namely Dr. Nwodo and Reverend Onuaguluchi, from further participation in the transition process.
That decision saved the day for the young state. The Nwodos conscripted Dr. Emmanuel Okwesilieze Nwodo, who was by then practicing medicine at a clinic along Zik Avenue, Enugu, into the governorship primary, which he won and went ahead to defeat Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu of Social Democratic Party (SDP), in the main election.
Nwodo served as governor from 1992 to November 1993, when the Sani Abacha junta sacked the civilian structures put in place in readiness for the 1993 presidential poll, which would have marked the final phase of the transition programme.
However, with the sordid experience that trailed that NRC governorship primary before the elder Nwodo and Rev Onuaguluchi were banned, the founding fathers of Enugu State decided to adopt a gentleman agreement to ensure that the governorship was rotated among the three senatorial zones.
In the discussions that preceded the 1998 governorship primaries of the political parties in the state, former Governors Christian Onoh and Chief Jim Nwobodo could not agree on which zone should take the first shot.
While Onoh was in APP, Nwobodo was in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So it was agreed that since the election would be fought on the basis of political parties, any zone from where the people elect the governor should be the starting point.
In the main election, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani defeated Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu of APP and with that Enugu East had the first shot in a cycle that runs full course in 2023.
It is, therefore, inscrutable that some elements, particularly within PDP should be talking about rotation based on clans and cultural groupings. This attempt by those who want to scuttle the zoning arrangement has also found expression in the subtle argument of core and periphery Nkanu of Enugu East Senatorial zone.
It was gathered that the protagonists of this dichotomy in Enugu East are scheming to have Governor Ugwuanyi support a candidate from Isi-Uzo area, which comprises people of Nsukka cultural and Nkanu people. But what the promoters of an Isiuzo governorship slot do not reckon with is that even within the core Nkanu area, areas like Nkanu East and other border towns have not occupied seats of governance.
Furthermore, the schemers tend to lose sight of the present realities on the ground in the state, which is that PDP is no longer the only mega party in the country, as such; any attempt to divide Nkanu could alter the political standing between PDP and APC in the state.
Most importantly, democracy being a game of numbers, it is not in doubt which area presents the bulk of Enugu East electorate and political actors. Any attempt, therefore, to micro zone to Isi-Uzo within the Enugu East Senatorial District would be an invitation to the climate of confusion and mutual suspicion that zoning in Enugu State sought to obliterate.
*Prof. Ujam writes from Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka